Tuesday, September 25, 2007

Falling Down

I turned 52 a couple of weeks ago. The day brought with it the usual birthday stuff, eventually. More importantly it presented some valuable lessons in mindfulness, patient endurance, and how quickly suffering (dukkha) moves in to take their place when we let them slip away.

I don't think my advancing age was much of a factor ?? but things started off with a bang - literally. While walking out of the kitchen with a much needed mug of coffee, one of the dogs stepped on the back of my flip-flop. I don't think I flipped exactly, but I did flop! Not surprising I suppose when 100 lbs of enthusiastic canine decides to stand in the same shoe you're trying to walk in. By the way, I didn't spill a drop of my coffee, which defies gravity at the very least. But I didn't get to drink it either. Lesson #1 Pay attention to what you're doing and where you're going - and who's following close behind instead of trying to sip coffee in route.

So there I was on the floor, and there was pain. But for the first time in my life there were none of the stories and add ons that usually go along with pain. There was pain but no suffering. I was OK. A visit to the emergency room confirmed what I already knew - broken ankle. Chipped is more accurate. I'm not a "high drama" kind of person anyway, but this sense of calm and acceptance was new for me. I saw this as an opportunity for practice. It was temporary.

I managed pretty well scooting around with my new crutches. There wasn't much I couldn't do, and what I was unable to get to could wait. It's important to note that this all happened on a Sunday which meant that my husband was at home with me and was doing a lot for me that I wasn't really noticing. Things were about to change. The next morning when I woke up he had already left for work. I happily hobbled into the kitchen and put on a pot of coffee. While it brewed I let the dogs out for their morning business, and even tidied up a bit. A bit of pride was beginning to creep in. "Look at me, I'm still in control here". Of course I didn't see this happening at the time. Lesson # 2 Ego will push mindfulness out of the way if bored or threatened, or just because it can. It can also cause you to take the help given by others for granted.

This illusion of mindfulness and patient endurance came to a screeching halt when I poured my coffee and suddenly realized that it is impossible to carry a mug of hot coffee while using crutches! It was striking how quickly the whole morning became all about my pain and my ankle and these damn crutches and I want my coffee now!! The truly wonderful part of this mini meltdown, as strange as that may sound, was that I could actually see it happening. Powerless to stop it, I watched it, held it, and it naturally subsided on it's own. All in all a beneficial experience.
Lesson #3 Pain is a natural part of being human. Suffering is optional. It is when mind interjects ideas of self that suffering appears. Oh, and it seems that I have a much higher tolerance for physical pain than I do for not getting my way, which was surprising to learn after all these years. Fertile ground for practice.

And The Dukkha Just Keeps On Coming

I've spent an excessive amount of time and energy over the years whining about the fact that there are no fellow Buddhists where I live. There are actually a handful who follow what I suppose may be the "New and Improved American Tradition of Buddhism". No real need for all those curious and old fashioned cultural trappings, like precepts or monks or, heaven forbid, bowing! I'm definitely out of place in local 'buddhist' circles. I was once described as a real Buddhist - not quite sure what the implication was there.

And so it goes.